Describing the task...
You have been hired as a consultant on social issues by a candidate for the Presidency. You will be collaborating with a small group, a consultant team. Your responsibility is to ensure that this team produces knowledgeable and well-reasoned analyses of social issues. If you do a good job, your reputation and career will be made. If you do a great job, she may appoint you as a Presidential advisor.
While you will have to consider diverse social issues, the goals and strategies for your work will be similar in all cases. For each issue, your group's job is to prepare a position paper for the candidate. In it, you will prepare her to defend her position in debates, interviews, and press conferences. She is giving you a lot of latitude, but she expects you will carefully cite the evidence supporting the recommendations you make and you will provide the arguments she will need against opponents.
The candidate is not seeking your opinions about the issue. Instead, she is expecting you to assess the policy choices based on what you can discover about the issue. Part of your responsibility for the position paper is to recommend a position to the candidate; however, rather than your personal opinions, your recommendation should suggest the policy most consistent with the goals given here and the social analysis of the issue you develop from your research. The candidate is a truly committed politician who wants to make our country a better place to live for all. She does believe that the proper role of government is
She is also a moral pragmatist. In her case this means the following:
- to try to give equal weight to the opinions of all citizens,
- to increase the amount of justice,
- to improve the well-being of all people,
- to protect the rights of all, and
- to safeguard the society.
Sometimes, you may feel that you can decide on a good policy position that fits the social science knowledge about the issue and meets these two general requirements, seeking an equally good life for all and avoiding preference to one moral code over another. Sometimes, you may feel that you must recommend the candidate either avoid any position because none will succeed or you may recommend that she simply follow her conscience because nothing you can discover about the issue offers reasonable guidance.
We should reduce disparities in opportunities for a good life. We should collectively commit ourselves to practical strategies to ameliorate socially problematic conditions that make it difficult for any group to participate fully in the collective enterprise or that generally reduce the quality of life. This is a very important goal. In the short term, it should take precedence over moral obstacles if they can be set aside without causing undue harm to people and it should take precedence over short term minor disadvantages that might be suffered by select groups.
If the public exhibits extensive, committed cleavages over key moral assumptions, we should try to find policies that sidestep or reduce the cleavages. The assumption here is that our nation is a collection of crosscutting moral communities. When different moral communities disagree, the government should avoid imposing a monolithic or unitary resolution, unless it is necessary to avoid irreparable harm. Extensive moral cleavages are damaging, creating division and distrust. Government policies should try to diminish them. We rarely can achieve harmony by favoring one group's moral vision over that of another. Thus, we should value moral tolerance when we disagree. However, we also have responsibilities to protect what we understand to be absolute rights and freedoms and to defend moral imperatives we believe cannot be overruled by collective preferences. For example, we have rejected discrimination based on racial identities as an injustice under all conditions; therefore, the central government should prevent discrimination against a minority within a state, even if a large majority in that state consider it morally right to discriminate. (Note, we can and should collectively impose the requirement that we do reject any moral position whereby a group advocates rules meant to apply differently to itself than others so as to enhance it's members' lives to the disadvantage of those outside it.) To put it simply, if people are extremely divided over an issue, we want to find a policy that reduces conflict if this is practically and morally possible.
The position papers must cover a range of relevant questions to achieve the goals above. These are described in the web pages referred to below. You have to use your judgement about what is more or less important for a particular issue.
The main issues you should consider for every policy recommendation are described here: Some Guidelines for a Good Paper. A range of suggestions to help you avoid pitfalls and produce good papers are here: Paper Advice.
Recommendation: If you want to do well, go through these two sets of guidelines three times while working on each position paper: once right at the beginning when you are first planning what you will do, once near the middle of the research process when you are trying to assess what you have left to do, and once while preparing the final draft.